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Health Issues Government, please increase and enforce the tax on my sugar!

Everyone loves sweet stuff - in our lives, in our foods and especially in what we drink. But, too much sugar can have deadly consequences, and Ghana's government needs to act.

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play Countries across the world are introducing sugar taxes. Is it time Ghana does too?

Globally debate rages over how much sugar should be in our beverages and whether there should be a sugar tax.

Some countries who have decided to take the sugar issue into their own hands and implement a sugar tax- a tax on the sugar content found in our drinks.

It's time Ghana joins those countries. But unlike the UK, Ghana has had a sugar tax for long, the only problem being that it was not being enforced - as is usual with almost every other law in Ghana.

So far this year, there have been moves by advanced countries to implement this tax and levy manufacturers of sweetened products in an effort to combat the growing incidences of obesity and type 2 diabetes. There exists a possible link between consuming excess sugars and high cholesterol, high blood pressure, some cancers and non-alcoholic liver disease.

A fizzy sweetened drink of 330 ml contains an average of eight teaspoons of sugar and the same size fruit juice contains an average of nine teaspoons of sugar.

The sugars found in these products are an unnecessary and unhealthy source of calories and health experts and advocates are becoming more concerned about the issues associated directly with excessive sugar consumption.

But, people do not really take into consideration the amount of sugar in their drinks. To them, it’s just numbers or they think will most likely burn it all off. Some equate their body size to their health status and justify their sugar intake.

Only fat people have to stop taking these drinks” That is a general misconception that people have about sugar.

But, excess sugar is very damaging.

The more sugar you consume the more insulin you use to maintain your blood glucose level, resulting in the absorption of more glucose into your cells, rather than eliminated by your body. The absorbed glucose is stored as fat, which makes you gain weight.

Honestly, the last thing that comes to mind on a hot sunny day is the amount of sugar found in a chilled glass of Coke - all you want is the refreshing feeling that comes with it. This is what makes the current situation even more precarious. And that’s where government’s role comes in.

There has been a lot of health concerns and mistrust of big corporations like Coca cola and Pepsi as their products are being blamed.

Well, who can blame them for trying to make profit? After all that is why they exist.

Though, they claim that they work in collaboration with dietitians to improve their products for the wellbeing of the people, their main motive is clear to all.

Countries such as Hungary, Mexico, Chile and several states in the US and recently South Africa and the UK have implemented the sugar tax to force companies to make the right choice. It seems to be the new ideal as more and more countries like India, the Philippines and Indonesia are considering the action.

The question is when will it be Ghana’s turn? Or will it ever happen? The simple answer here is - Ghana already has a sugar tax,an almost non-existent one however. The law that allows taxation on products containing sugar in Ghana has been in play for a while now, but it is either not being implemented or needs to be increased.

With the advent of globalization, sugary foods have become increasingly available in the developing world - and in Ghana. This has resulted in about 80% of people with diabetes now living in low- and middle-income countries.

Last year, the National Diabetes Association has disclosed that about 2.6 million Ghanaians are living with the diabetes disease.

Diabetes accounts  for 8.6 per cent of deaths from all causes in adults reported the Ghana Business Network.

The number is staggering as more and more people are changing their diets to accommodate these products. Sugar tax is the most probable step forward to contain this epidemic. Countries which have already implemented this tax have seen a considerable reduction in their obesity and diabetes cases.

A 2016 modeling study in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology conducted by Yuan Ma and colleagues in the UK on the effects of a gradual reduction of sugar in soft drinks without substitution to combat overweight, obesity and type 2 diabetes has revealed that sugar sweetened beverages, which are sources of free sugar intake in children and adults, are a major contributor to the occurrence of these diseases.

The study showed that a 40% reduction in free sugars added to sugar-sweetened beverages over 5 years would lead to average reduction in steady-state bodyweight and a subsequent reduction in the prevalence in adults of overweight by 1·0 percentage point (from 35·5% to 34·5%) and obesity by 2·1 percentage points (from 27·8% to 25·7%).

This means there would be roughly 0.5 million adults who would not be overweight and 1 million not obese and subsequently prevent 274 000–309 000 incident cases of obesity-related type 2 diabetes over the next two decades.

The predicted effect will be greater in adolescents, young adults, and individuals from low-income families (who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages).

In Ghana, this issue of sugar tax has not yet reached the attention of parliamentarians and there is a need for them to consider this as they have a greater hand to play in the health choices of the citizens.

Even though public awareness and campaigns have been embarked on to sensitise the general public on the health risks from obesity and high sugar intake, more needs to be done by government to tackle the problem from the source that is the manufacturer.

Government has the responsibility to protect its citizens as these products are killing a lot of Ghanaians.  People have to be pushed to make healthier and more sustainable choices and the tax would achieve this.

A sugar tax has the potential to not only encourage healthy eating habits, but also to provide a much needed source of income for public health systems for Ghana. Obesity and diabetes have put extra burden on the government as government has had to spend more on the healthcare system. The money obtained can be used on the revamping of the lagging health care system.

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centre of Disease Control (CDC) claims that a penny an ounce tax could reduce sugar consumption by 10%, and raise 100 billion over 10 years  reported by the Harvard college global health review.

That would mean some considerable income to the government.

It is most alarming that new cases are increasing in children and adolescents. They consume a lot more of these products and their future would only get worse if nothing is done about it. The Action on sugar campaign has declared that steps need to be taken immediately as children will grow accustomed to a diet of high sugars and this habit will then be harder for them to break. Thus, the need to try and provide citizens with healthier low-sugar options and action needs to be taken now.

This can only be done with the implementation and enforcement of a sugar tax.

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